What’s in a whistleblowing report about Wirral Council’s “dismal decade?”
On the 5th August 2016 a former Wirral Council employee Martin Morton made a Freedom of Information request to Wirral Council for a copy of a report commissioned from Nick Warren on whistleblowing by former Wirral Council employees.
After Wirral Council had ignored his request for a month, Martin Morton requested an internal review on the 6th September 2016.
Wirral Council completed that internal review and communicated the results to Martin Morton on the 3rd October 2016 refusing to supply the report in its entirety.
The refusal was made by Wirral Council’s Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour on the basis that it would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs (section 36).
Martin Morton then appealed Surjit Tour’s decision to the regulator ICO (the Information Commissioner’s Office).
During the course of ICO’s investigation, Wirral Council apologised for how long it had taken to reply to Martin Morton‘s request, but added an additional reason for refusing some of the information giving personal information (section 40) as a further reason.
On the 27th April 2017 ICO issued a decision notice (FS50649341). The decision notice required some of the information requested to be released to Martin Morton within 35 calendar days as ICO disagreed with Wirral Council and felt there were parts of the report to which neither section 36 nor section 40 applied.
Wirral Council released that information yesterday which comprise paragraphs 1-8 of the report (although part of paragraph 4 is redacted) and paragraph 76. I’ve put in a line break between different pages and in the conversion from print to HTML there may be some minor formatting changes.
I include what has been released below yesterday as it is rather short. A series of XXXX represents the redacted bit. I’ve made two additions. The first is that I’ve linked the words “precise terms of reference” in paragraph 4 to the terms of reference as the report makes more sense when read together with the terms of reference. The second is that I’ve made it clearer that paragraphs 5-75 haven’t been released of the report.
- This review arises from events which formed part of a dismal decade for Wirral Borough Council (“Wirral”) culminating in a remarkable joint statement from the Leader of the Council and the then Chief Executive (CE) which have accepted a number of failings and recognised the need to improve Wirral’s corporate governance, culture and workforce policies.
- Part of the statement concerned the Highways and Engineering Services procurement exercise (“HESPE”). This work was put out to tender; there were bids from the private sector and an in house bid from the Wirral “DLO”. It is convenient to state here some important dates concerning HESPE.
Dec 2007 Announcement in the Official EU Journal.
13 March 2008 Qualifying bidders chosen
2 July 2008 Bidders invited to tender according to a Bill of Quantities.
4 Sept 2008
(later extended to
5 Sept 2008)
Tender return date.
16 Oct 2008 Contract formally awarded to COLAS.
- The DLO bid was therefore unsuccessful. This meant that the DLO staff would transfer to COLAS from April 2009.
- In November 2008 some employees of the DLO made a disclosure on the advice of their Trade Union to Wirral’s CE. I will refer to them collectively as “the Whistleblowers”. They had all worked for Wirral for many years. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX I have been asked to review the treatment of the Whistleblowers. It is not necessary to recite precise terms of reference.
- I have interviewed the Whistleblowers and other witnesses and have read a large number of documents provided by Wirral. I thank Wirral staff for the co-operation which I have received. I will not deal with all the evidence because I want to make my report as short and as readable as I can. If required, I can expand on or explore any individual issue.
- I have of course used hindsight. That is in the very nature of a review. There is nothing wrong with this provided I do not use it to criticise people or actions unfairly.
B. WHAT THE WHISTLEBLOWERS HAVE DONE FOR WIRRAL
- It took Wirral about four months to respond to the Whistleblowers. They were dissatisfied and went to the Audit Commission. The Commission took the
unusual step of issuing a public report identifying serious weakness in Wirral’s arrangements for:-
(a) Declaration of Interests.
(b) Internal Audit
(c) Reporting to Elected Members
(d) Dealing with Whistleblowers
(e) Evaluating Tenders
- As a result Wirral has altered and improved its procedures in these important areas of work. It seems clear that the weaknesses would not have been exposed, nor would the improvements have come about, if the Whistleblowers had not had the courage to speak out. I am not aware that Wirral has acknowledged publicly or privately the contribution which the Whistleblowers thus made to our community.
(Paragraphs 5-75 are redacted).
- The Whistleblowers have not received sufficient credit for exposing poor practice within Wirral. The “informal” nature of the first investigation resulted
in them having to work under great stress for several months. While they were still Wirral employees, their names were disclosed to their new employer as being in some way untrustworthy. Their health and their jobs were adversely affected over an extended period.
Nicholas Warren 6th October 2015.
If you click on any of the buttons below, you’ll be doing me a favour by sharing this result with other people.